Interview

Interview of the writer Linor Goralik with Sergey Kuznetsov about the History Scholarship

Writer, poet, journalist, translator, business advisor, and our good friend Linor Goralik spoke to Le Sallay Academy’s founder Sergey Kuznetsov about the various scholarships offered by the Academy and its Russian-language school Le Sallay Dialogue. Here’s what Linor posted on her Facebook page.

Le Sallay Academy is offering scholarships for kids who love history. We had a chat about it with the academy’s founder Sergey Kuznetsov, and I decided to interview him on the topic to let him explain everything firsthand. By the way, additional details about the scholarship are available here, here goes.


Linor Goralik: Your school, Le Sallay Academy, has recently announced a full-tuition scholarship for children who love history. What kind of message are you sending by granting such scholarships? And, more broadly, why are you doing this?

Sergey Kuznetsov: First of all, to avoid any confusion, I’m going to point out right away that we have two schools that are offering two separate kinds of scholarships.

Both of our schools are similar in terms of configuration: they are middle schools for children aged ten to 15 based on the blended learning model. The difference is Le Sallay Academy is an international school so classes are in English, while Le Sallay Dialogue is a Russian school, which means classes are in Russian. The tuition fees differ too, being over three times higher at Le Sallay Academy.
Each of the two schools offers two types of scholarships. The first one is what we call financial aid. Sometimes we meet kids who are great for us and who – along with their parents – would very much like to get into one of our schools, but they simply can’t afford the full tuition. In that case we approach our sponsors, have a talk with them, tell them about the kid, and try to get them to cover a part of the tuition so that the family can afford the school. If, say, the parents can only pay €20,000 out of the €35,000 yearly fee at Le Sallay Academy, it means we must somehow find €15,000 to cover the full cost (by the way, the yearly tuition at Le Sallay Dialogue school is €10,000). We offer a lot of such scholarships each year.

The second scholarship type is the one which covers all the fees, including tuition as well as housing and food during the in-person sessions, so that a child can study at one of our schools for free. Each of the schools only offers a single scholarship of this type a year, and in this case, there are special criteria for the intended recipients. For instance, we regularly offer a scholarship for children from Russia’s regions outside of Moscow; last year, Le Sallay Academy announced a scholarship for girls who are into math and sciences, and this year, we are looking for children who love history.

When picking the scholarship criteria for the next year, we obviously consider several things, including:
★ preferences of the people who provide us with the funds to offer the scholarship;
★ our own expectations in terms of who we’d like to see at our schools;
★ who needs us the most, who is in need of our help and support: for instance, Russia’s regions have it much worse when it comes to good schools and money compared to Moscow, so we decide to give a hand to children there; or we notice that math is considered a ‘boys’ club’, and girls who like it sometimes have a hard time (it’s not as widespread as it used to be thirty years ago, but the perception is still there), so we announce a scholarship for these girls;
★ which parts of our curriculum we’d like the parents to notice: for example, this year, we announced a scholarship at Le Sallay Academy for children who love history, because we wanted to emphasize that we offer a great humanities program, that it’s not just STEM (which schools founded by Russians are primarily known for).
As for our Le Sallay Dialogue school, it is offering a scholarship for children from Russia’s regions this year.

Linor Goralik: Was there something in this year’s applications that surprised you?

Sergey Kuznetsov: As unexpected as it is, we were mostly surprised by their number which was relatively small. I think that right now, in the spring of 2021, parents simply reach the words ‘online education’ in our schools’ profiles and don’t even bother reading any further :).

It is understandable, really: for the past year, pretty much everyone got sick and tired of online learning, so a lot of people are simply too exhausted why our school stands out compared to most other online schools, not to mention regular schools that switch over to distant learning. Firstly, in our curriculum, in-person classes make up almost a half of total school hours, since we hold four lengthy and very rigorous in-person session a year, and secondly, for online classes we have small groups of five to six students communicating live with a teacher (and sometimes even two teachers) who is working with each student. This approach is completely different from what was happening during the past year.

That said, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the applications, both in terms of children’s level of proficiency, and their motivation. I would even go as far as to say that our students’ knowledge level is growing with each passing year, and we are very happy to see that.

Linor Goralik: Is it hard to pick a single person?

Sergey Kuznetsov: It is extremely hard. The thing is we have pretty complex integral criteria – we don’t just choose a recipient based on their academic achievement or their parents’ low income, the process is way more elaborate that that.
When it comes to our history scholarship, we check to see if the child is actually interested in history. Interest is more important for us that proficiency, even if a kid who is interested in a subject will naturally be more proficient in it that someone who isn’t. We look at how well our school works for the child in question, since there are obviously no schools that would work great for everyone. Another important factor is how badly the child needs our school specifically: for instance, if one kid lives in a big city with lots of good schools around, while another dwells on a farm or in a remote village, the latter clearly needs us more. And, of course, we take into account the parents’ income, even though it’s not financial aid but rather a student-specific scholarship: after all, one of our goals is helping children who have no other chance to get into our school.

In any circumstance, it’s always a tough choice. Each year we get applications from so many great kids, and we spend a lot of time considering them, speaking to the children and their parents, conducting tests, discussing our potential students, and so on. It’s very hard to pick a single kid, so after awarding the scholarship to one of the applicants, we usually try to provide financial aid for all the others, which gets pretty substantial.

Linor Goralik: When it comes to scholarship recipients, some people say such children have trouble fitting in. What do you do to prevent that?

Sergey Kuznetsov: I don’t think we have had this problem, at least I don’t recall our scholarship recipients having any special issues. Firstly, we have obtained a lot of experience in these matters in our Marabou educational camp: each summer, about 10% of the kids who stay there pay much smaller fees or don’t pay anything at all. And all this time, these kids have never been seen as different because of it by us or by their peers. You usually can’t tell what kind of family an attendee comes from, whether he is a child of an oligarch, an average entrepreneur, or a teacher from a school somewhere in a small town. We have never seen any of the kids who receive aid get bullied or humiliated. Moreover, they often achieve high social status within their groups.

Secondly, a part of our job is creating an atmosphere where kids don’t care about how expensive their sneakers are and don’t feel the need to compare the sizes of their parents’ yachts. We do this job whether or not we offer any scholarships, because it’s about shaping values. Of course, we don’t tell the kids having a private jet is a bad thing (and I don’t think it’s bad, a lot of people would gladly get one of they could :)) or even that bragging is wrong, but we try to show them that what really matters isn’t how much money you have but how successful you are in terms of academic and intellectual achievements, it’s not about being rich, it’s about developing certain personal qualities like kindness, the ability to listen and to get along with people, being willing to support another person, etc. If we believe it’s important to be smart and nice, the question of who is rich and who is poor becomes irrelevant.
To cut a long story short, we have never seen students of our schools forming cliques based on their parents’ income, just like at Camp Marabou, and no scholarship recipients ever get special treatment because of it. Besides, as I was saying, a lot of our students receive financial aid, so it’s not like we have 25 kids paying €35,000 each and a single one studying for free, it’s way more diverse than that.

By the way, while we announce the identity of the full-tuition scholarship recipient openly, no one – not even teachers – usually knows who receives financial aid and who paid full fees.

Linor Goralik: Children often head to Camp Marabou year after year, while this scholarship is a single-use opportunity. What will happen afterwards? Are you keeping track of these kids?

Sergey Kuznetsov: Indeed, children usually visit Camp Marabou several times, but everyone wants to keep attending our school after their scholarship year ends, too. Usually, we find a way to let our scholarship recipients stay with us. In general, if we provided some form of scholarship to a kid once, we try to make sure they stay with us until they leave for high school.

Linor Goralik: What are the parents expected to specify in the application form? Is there some information they should not forget?

Sergey Kuznetsov: Our application form contains quite a few questions, actually, so I think, simply answering these honestly will be enough. Don’t be afraid to write too much. In fact, if you feel our school will be great for your kid, don’t hesitate to apply or contact us in any other way. As I said, we have a lot of opportunities to help those who want to attend our school achieve their dream.

You’ll find all the details about the scholarship for children who love history here. Best of luck to all the applicants!

This interview is in Russian.

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